Guest conductor Marcelo Lehninger announced that the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra would be presenting “a rarely heard piano concerto” as part of its season-opening concert Saturday at the Tulsa PAC.
Lehninger was joking, of course, as the centerpiece of the orchestra’s concert, which it titled “Magnificent.” was the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Rachmaninoff, which since its debut in 1901 has been one of the most popular works of its kind.
But one could make the case that the performance Saturday of this piece, which soloist Natasha Paremski making her Tulsa debut as soloist, made this well-known warhorse deliver the shock of the new.
It’s not that Paremski’s approach to this concerto was in any way revolutionary or overly inventive. Rather, her playing was a marvel of sonic and emotional balance, expressive without being showy, performing passages of great delicacy and impressive power with exquisite control.
Paremski brought a vocal lyricism to the famous melodies of the second movement, which pop song writers have been plundering for a century, while the frenetic passages of the movement’s cadenza displayed such a febrile intensity to be almost shocking.
Lehninger guided the orchestra through an equally superb performance, that featured gorgeous solo work by principal flutist John Rush.
The other major work on the program with the Symphony No. 5 in D Minor by Shostakovich. It’s one of this composer’s more controversial creations, written after his opera “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” had incurred the official wrath of the Soviet government. An article in a state-run newspaper, supposedly written by Shostakovich, included the phrase that the Fifth Symphony was “a Soviet artist’s creative response to justified criticism.”
And the Symphony No. 5 contains sections that certainly sound like the sort martial pomp and bluster that appeals to insecure authoritarians, such as the militaristic march that stomps through the middle of the first act. Yet that march soon dissolves into chaos and silence, from which arises a flute melody like a lone songbird on an empty battlefield.
Lehninger and the Tulsa Symphony were again superb in this piece, with Lehninger in complete control of the coiled sonic power of the orchestra, bringing out the grotesqueries that serve as sardonic counterpoint to the jingoistic elements in the music, and deftly handling dynamics from the faintest whispers of sound to explosion of voluminous power.
The concert opened with the Prelude to Act III of Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin,” which Lehninger and the orchestra performed with an effusive, effervescent sense of breathless anticipation, making it an excellent start to the Tulsa Symphony’s 17th season.